‘Breath’ by Tim Winton: Penguin Books

The first chapter of Tim Winton’s new novel, Breath - Penguin Books - is one of the most stunning opening scenes to a story I have ever read.
‘Breath’ by Tim Winton: Penguin Books
Breath by Tim Winton: Penguin Books The first chapter of Tim Winton’s new novel, Breath, is one of the most stunning opening scenes to a story I have ever read. It is very, very good. It held my attention in the way a disaster holds ones eyes, willing or not. The first chapter establishes the character of Bruce Pike, ambulance paramedic, the protagonist of the story, the rest of the book explain why he is the adult he has become. In this chapter the vital importance of breath and breathing is indicated by its absence. Names and words are important to the story, although, at first reading it is easy to overlook their significance, as you rush to the climax of the story, and slide down to the ending. Pike, a fish, a diving style, a weapon, pikelet, a drop scone, afternoon tea food, eaten smothered with jam. Ivan Loon, the reckless boy who never refused a dare; Loonie. Eve, the broken, the temptress, the original sinner. Sando, loose, unstable Bill Sanderson, the surfing guru figure who takes Pikelet and Loonie as apprentices. The role is vital in this story, but, perhaps the character is less so. This is a book which describes the characters and the environment with care and precision. Boys who have spent summer days in and out of the water have sun-split lips which start bleeding when they grin. Winton writes of Pikelet and Loonie learning to swim underwater, learning to ‘hold our breaths under water so long that our heads were full of stars.’ Pike, as an adult plays the didjeridoo, an instrument which requires circular breathing. As an ambulance paramedic he understands the physiology of respiration and breathing, he knows about the asthmatic ‘trying to drag air into himself with such effort that the stuff could be as thick and heavy as honey’ Breath is as important as the characters in this story. And he writes about the surf: Ocean and air seemed hyper-oxygenated; everything fizzed and spritzed as if long after the passage of previous waves there was an energy yet to be dissipated… Nothing shone. The sea looked bottomless. While writing about the physical act of going into the water and riding a wave Winton achieves a nervous anticipation which would surpass most thriller writers at their best. Think of Val McDermod, Jeffery Deever or Minnette Walters on a really good day, Winton reaches that level of tension and sometimes exceeds it. Winton does not write fairy stories. He is writing about the real world in which people are born, and breath. They live lives that are not always easy, marriages and relationships do not always thrive, people stop breathing and die. In his writing, actions have consequences, risks taken when skiing, surfing or living can turn out well, or poorly. People have accidents which leave them injured and broken. Innocence or ignorance are not excused. This is Tim Winton’s best novel to date. (Winton has won his fourth Miles Franklin award for this book. I am looking forward to a rigorous feminist analysis of it. I want someone to ask male writers not to kill off female characters just because of anomalous sexual behavior. I want someone to point out that no normal woman lusts after pubescent males.) Breath by Tim Winton: Penguin Books

Sue Parsons

Monday 29 June, 2009

About the author

Sue Parsons is an avid reader, and has now moved from reading medical texts to nurturing a vegie patch!